We left the boat at Kumarakom and drove through to the “Western Ghats”.  We passed through Thodupuzha where there is a statue of Gandhi spinning thread.  This is where he took the stand and declared that he wuold  only wear homespun cloth.

We passed many rubber and pineapple plantations on the way to to Munnar and many very impressive and very large houses.  Everyone told us that these were built by Indians who had make a lot of money working in the middle east.  Much more than in India where a lot of workers are paid between $2- $3 a day.

Munnar is north east  of Cochin and high up in the mountains of Kerala which the locals call “God’s own country”.  We thought we were getting a bit close to God when we found that the driver definately had a death wish – he tried passing on every curve we came to and then braked suddenly when he was faced head on with another vehicle. It was a long bumpy 4hour trip.  The driver then told us that there was a helicopter service planned for next year taking 1/2 hour to Munnar.

We were deposited at a designated spot and then a jeep picked us up and took us down the very steep slope of the mountain to the Kaivalyam retreat, a small resort (only 8 rooms) but beautifully appointed  and with spectacular views over the surrounding mountains.  There are about 15 staff who are all friendly and helpful.

It is high season from November until March in Munnar and this attracts many honeymooners.  The women wear many silver and red coloured bangles half way up their arms showing that they are newlyweds. We couldn’t believe that after a 4hour trip on the winding mountain roads a lot of them only stay for 2nights before moving on to other areas.  We forget that they probably all work and they have to make the most of their short holidays like we used to!

There are no other buildings around the retreat/resort and it is all vegetarian food and no alcohol (we had a couple of beers on the boat!). We have a lovely private glassed in sitting area (and a door we can open with flywire – the first we have found in India) so that we could sit overlooking the mountains and valley below us as we sipped on our lime/sodas.

The couple Harish and Anju that own the property also run it and a lot of thought has gone in to it’s planning.  They come from Pune in the north and worked in Japan in I.T. for ten years before coming back to India and building the resort.  Harish is also the yoga teacher and they provide a free walk through the spice plantation walk as well as complimentary yoga.  We also had laundry and ironing done which was so cheap at $3 for 23 items.  Maurice the housekeeper has otherwise been doing the “smalls”.

They also have a  resident cat called Munu who is very cute.

It was warm during the day but cooler at night.  The only sound in the morning were birds chirping and we had a wonderful sleep in a very comfortable bed.

We really have been lucky in that in nearly nine months of travelling we have only had a couple of uncomfortable beds.

The following day we bumped up the steep road again in the jeep (luckily we hadn’t eaten beforehand)  to the top of the hill where we took the three wheeled autorickshaw (more bumping for 8kms) to Munnar, the main town of this area. There were scores of autorickshaws waiting to pick up the mainly Indian tourists and most of these come from various citites to Munnar for “the season”.  They must sleep in the back of their vehicles.  After the high season they go back to the cities and villages from where they have come.

There was a lot of new road surfacing taking place in the centre of town and as in many Asian countries the back breaking work of carrying the blue metal in baskets on their heads and spreading the tar was done by the women while the men stood around supervising the work.

We wandered around and in one of the many textile shops I bought a sari to make a long shirt for $4.  The small shop was crammed full of every type, colour and fabric of sari you could imagine all tied in bundles and it seemed to be the most reasonable shop as it was packed with buyers.

We also saw for sale a few small American flags with Australia written on them – someone messed up there!

We walked part of the way back and found a nice restaurant in the “Bellmount hotel” and had some very inexpensive lunch and then caught another autorickshaw to the Pallivasal Tata Tea Factory.  We walked down the mountain through the beautifully sculptured tea plantations.  In many places the tea bushes are fitted like pieces of a jigsaw placed around the natural formation of rocks.  We walked down over a bridge to near a waterfall and a cute little “coffe” and tea house where we had some fresh lime/sodas. The cafe had a wall of bottles of every imaginable spirit which had then been planted with various things.  With so little liquor allowed in Kerala and none at the cafe we wondered from where they got them all.

We started back towards the top of the mountain when a nice man in a very little 3wheeler truck stopped and asked us if we wanted a lift. We must have looked exhausted and although we were tempted we decided that we needed the walk back up the mountain.  There are many lemon scented gums in the area and in a couple of places when we looked at the landscape around us we could have been back in Australia.

We took the uneven steps this time and not the road so made it up in about 1/2 hour and we then walked along the main road and then gingerly down our steep road to the resort.  We were exhausted by the time we got back.

At 7am we went to the complimentary yoga session which was held in a lovely octagonal building facing the sunrise.  Harish is an excellent yoga teacher and has been doing yoga since he was a child as both his parents were yoga teachers.  The hour and a half did us a lot of good and limbered us up for the day.

We decided to do the spice plantation walk a bit later and one of the employees took us nearly down to where we had been the previous day but through many acres of cardamon plantations.  The cardamon plants look very much like ginger plants only the leaves fan out into many sections.   Harish and Anju have 11acres of cardamon and another man has about 50acres of cardamon bordering their property.

In Munnar there are laws governing what can be grown in certain areas and the surrounding area of more than 5 kilometres of land is designated solely for cardamon plantations.  Harish told us that some people flaunted this law and built resorts on the land which were afterwards demolished by the authorities.  We also saw pepper vines growing up the trees and some coffee trees.  There were tarpaulins full of Arabica coffee beans which needed to dry for a couple of weeks and they then give the pods to a factory which collects the beans from various estates before getting the coffee back as roasted beans for use at the resort.  We tried the coffee and it was very good.

The jeep took us in the late afternoon to the “Punarjani” traditional village and to a performance of just over an hour of “Kathakali” a traditional Keralan dance drama.  The first section consisted of the brightly painted and decorated woman displaying emotions one by one with hand and facial movements as they were explained by the announcer.  She was very good at it and received much applause.  All the while there was a cymbal player and very energetic drummer who I’m sure would need shoulder reconstructions in his old age.  He beat the drum for the entire hour with much gusto.  The second half depicted the usual, love, despair, disdain and  reconcilliation of the two main characters but the third character who appeared on stage and danced about and only screetched at the top of their voice we could have done without!  As with most ethnic concerts/performances this went for 20minutes too long and with the constant wailing of the singer (telling the story in we presumed Malayalam) and the ear piercing drum and cymbals we were glad when it

finished.  We were sitting up in the Gods and I nearly got crushed by all the indian tourists when I went to take a couple of pictures of the main characters as they were all jostling at the same time to have their photos taken with each character.

We were glad that we passed on the “Kalari” martial arts performance which took place in what reminded me of the arena of the coloseum only on a smaller scale.

The next day we took it easy.  I had a touch of gastro (nothing to do with the food as Maurice was fine and we shared everything we ate) which persisted throughout the night and day but luckily Doctor Maurice had just the thing in his medicine chest to arrest the nasties.  He went to yoga with a nice French couple who thought yoga was only for old people (read Maurice I suppose) but they were amazed at the work out it gave them.  I lingered in bed and when I could, drank ginger tea and dry toast with vegemite (which I had lovingly carried all over the place).

I had to for go the massage treatment that afternoon but Maurice went and enjoyed a head and body massage in Munnar.  The trip back probably undid the most of the treatment as the many potholes are designed to put your back out.

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